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Gyms and Coronavirus: What are the risks?

The spread of the coronavirus could make even the most ardent gym rats stress out about picking up barbells

By Aimee Ortiz
Published: Mar 9, 2020

Gyms and Coronavirus: What are the risks?Weights sit on a rack at Performix House gym in New York, Sept. 18, 2018. As the spread of the new coronavirus, which has killed at least a dozen people and sickened hundreds in the nation, could make even the most ardent gym rats begin to stress out about picking up high contact surfaces like barbells that are used throughout the day can pose a risk. (Vincent Tullo/The New York Times)

It’s not the kind of thing you want to think about while you’re in child’s pose in yoga class, when your nose is close to the mat, but after hearing how you should stop touching your face to guard against the coronavirus, you might wonder: What are the risks of transmission while working out at a gym?

Be mindful of equipment that is frequently handled
The spread of the coronavirus could make even the most ardent gym rats stress out about picking up barbells.

There’s a lower risk of picking up the coronavirus at a gym or health club than at a church service, for example, said Dr. David Thomas, a professor of medicine and director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. By comparison, church services may include shaking hands and being in closer proximity to people.

But if you’re in a community where there have been cases of the coronavirus, “that’s, perhaps, a time to be more cautious with all types of exposures, including a gym,” Thomas said.

Sweat cannot transmit the virus but high-contact surfaces, such as barbells, can pose a problem, he said.

Scientists are still figuring out how the virus exactly spreads but have provided some guidance on how it seems to be transmitted. A study of other coronaviruses found they remained on metal, glass and plastic for two hours to nine days.

Certain objects, like handles and doorknobs, are “disproportionally affected by hands, and those are the surfaces most likely to have viruses for that reason,” Thomas said.

Gyms are stepping up cleanings
The owner of a yoga studio in Washington state, where several coronavirus patients have died, according to The Yoga Journal, “says she’s seen a direct impact from all the hysteria in the area on both attendance and business.”

Equinox, the luxury fitness club brand, has sent notices to members, reassuring them that additional steps are being taken during the peak flu season and amid growing concerns about the coronavirus.

The additional steps include disinfecting all club areas with a hospital-grade solution three times a day, reminding people to stay home if they are sick and asking instructors to eliminate skin-to-skin contact, like hands-on adjustments during yoga, a spokeswoman said.

Brian Cooper, chief executive of YogaWorks, sent an email to the company’s clients, reassuring them that it was stepping up its cleaning processes “to keep our facilities a safe and welcoming environment for all students and staff.”

David Carney, president of Orangetheory Fitness, listed precautions in an email on Thursday. “Wipe down your equipment after every block, and don’t hesitate to request a new wipe whenever you need to,” he wrote.

What you can do to protect yourself
Do you know what’s in those nondescript spray bottle at gyms that you’re supposed to use to wipe down your machine, mat and equipment?

If you’re not sure, ask staff members what’s in the bottle or take your own wipes to the gym.

“I’ll probably bring my own wipes,” Thomas said on Saturday of his gym trip planned for later that day. “I’ll know that they’re the right wipes and they have the right concentration of alcohol.”

Diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol and several common household disinfectants should be effective against the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Environmental Protection Agency released a list of disinfectants against the virus.

In addition to avoiding frequently handled machines and equipment, it’s recommended, as always, that you wash your hands often and don’t touch your face.

And if you’re feeling sick, stay home.

“This is mostly about how you keep from getting sick at a gym, but please don’t go to the gym if you feel sick,” Thomas said. “Don’t give it to other people.”

©2019 New York Times News Service

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  • Sathis

    Hello This is just to spoil gym business and nothing else Gym is in 4th or 5th list 1st one is public transport, streets, shops, hotels, hospitals and organisations Only 10 will go to gym out of 100 but all the 100 will go to other places mentioned above First of all we can\'t move out from home in such cases then how you are saying going to gym will spread. People not breathing or sneezing on the road? Need to control the disease and not people.. Don\'t spread wrong thoughts. What ever you media think is not correct.. Just a time pass article which is going to spoil others business...

    on Mar 11, 2020